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Labor Report

Governor Wolf Announces L&I Secretary’s Retirement and His Nomination of a New Secretary

Governor Tom Wolf has announced his intention to nominate in December current Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Deputy Secretary for Safety and Labor-Management Relations Jennifer Berrier to serve as department secretary.

Berrier will assume the role of Acting Secretary when current L&I Secretary W. Gerard “Jerry” Oleksiak retires on Friday, December 4th, 2020.

“Jennifer Berrier’s 15 years of experience and service with L&I provide her with a strong background that will allow her to move smoothly into the role of secretary during this crucial time,” Governor Wolf said. “Her broad knowledge of L&I and her record of effective leadership gives me confidence in her ability to oversee an agency that provides critical services to millions of Pennsylvanians and will play a vital role as we rebuild our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As Deputy Secretary for Safety and Labor-Management Relations, Berrier has overseen four bureaus that help vulnerable workers, certify the safety of buildings and other building components, ensure that individuals with disabilities who are unable to work receive Social Security benefits, and facilitate resolutions in labor mediations and arbitrations. Previously, Berrier served as the Director for the Bureau of Occupational & Industrial Safety and prosecuted labor and employment law cases as legal counsel to the department. Berrier is a graduate of York College and earned her Juris Doctor from Widener University.

Secretary Oleksiak has led L&I for over three years since September 5th, 2017.

“I have been deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as L&I secretary, and I will be forever grateful to Governor Wolf for affording me the chance to lead this agency,” Secretary Oleksiak said. “I am proud of the talent, resilience, commitment, and hard work L&I staff have demonstrated since my arrival and am confident they will continue to respond effectively to serve the crucial needs of fellow Pennsylvanians under Jennifer’s leadership.”

“Jerry Oleksiak has been a tireless advocate for Pennsylvania workers everywhere,” Governor Wolf said. “He fought for an increase to the minimum wage and oversaw the implementation of a new overtime rule that expanded overtime eligibility to 143,000 people and strengthened overtime protections for up to 251,000 more. His resolute and steady leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic was crucial to L&I paying out more than $30 billion in unemployment benefits to eligible Pennsylvanians since the beginning of mitigation efforts. His legacy of improving working conditions and supporting innovative workforce solutions will benefit Pennsylvania workers and Pennsylvania’s economy for many years to come.”

PA CareerLink Helps Military Veterans With Specially Trained Employment Representatives

In observance of this week’s Veterans Day holiday, Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak recognized the sacrifices made by members of the United States Armed Forces and reminded current and former members of the military about the free employment and training services available every day to veterans through PA CareerLink. 

“This Veterans Day, I'd like to extend a personal ‘thank you’ to our veterans for their service and sacrifice to secure the blessings of freedom, democracy and the unmatched opportunity that we enjoy in the United States,” Secretary Oleksiak said. “Our veterans deserve our support, especially when it comes to building a successful, family-supporting career outside of the military. PA CareerLink offers an array of opportunities for veterans to learn new skills and revamp their careers during and after their service.

“Labor & Industry wants to remind veterans that we welcome them to take part in workforce development programs and comprehensive employment support services, in-person and online, at our 60 locations, and through the job search engine, JobGateway, to improve their employment outcomes.”

Each PA CareerLink office has specially trained local veterans employment representatives who provide veterans with a full range of in-person or virtual employment services, including job development and referrals to training, government, and community veteran service agencies. These representatives also help veterans match their job skills to employer job openings and can contact employers on behalf of a veteran for consideration in hiring.

By law, PA CareerLink offices give priority to qualified veterans through administration of the Veterans Program. Disabled veterans also receive additional priority and assistance. PA CareerLink representatives focus on helping those veterans with service-connected disabilities readjust to civilian life.

If you are planning to leave military service, Pennsylvania's Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) offers job-search assistance and related services to separating service members during their transition into civilian life. TAP consists of workshops where attendees learn how to conduct job searches and prepare resumes and cover letters and participate in mock interviews. Current labor market information is provided, as well as an evaluation of employability relative to the job market. Veterans' benefits are also covered.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Veterans Registry provides veterans with information about benefits, programs, and services that are available to them. The registry allows the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to achieve a higher level of communication and outreach to veterans, their family members, and the people who work with them.

For more information, visit PA CareerLink online or call 1-866-858-2753 to find the location nearest you. Additional information about other veterans' programs can be found by contacting the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs online or by calling 1-800-54-PAVET.

More Than Two Dozen Current, Former Organized Labor Officials to Serve on Biden’s Agency Review Teams

President-elect Joe Biden has named more than two dozen organized labor-affiliated officials to serve on 15 Agency Review Teams (ARTs) that comprise his Transition Team, including at least seven that will serve on his Department of Labor team.

“The ARTs are comprised of highly experienced and talented professionals with deep backgrounds in key policy areas across the federal government,” the Biden-Harris Transition Team stated in a news release. “The teams possess a diversity of perspectives critical to addressing America’s most urgent and complex challenges.”
Previously the president-elect announced that IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson and United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero would serve on the 15-member advisory board for the transition team.

Members of the Department of Labor Review Team include Jennifer Abruzzo, former general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board and current special counsel for the Communications Workers of America; Jessica Chu, chief of staff to the Amalgamated Transit Union; Michael Hazard, administrator for the United Association’s Veterans in Piping Program; Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; Shaun O’Brien, assistant director of AFSCME’s Research of Collective Bargaining Services division; Patricia Smith, senior counsel for the National Employment Law Project; and Lynn Rhineheart, former general counsel for the AFL-CIO.

Other labor officials serve on ARTs for the following departments: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Justice, State, Treasury, and Transportation; as well as the Federal Reserve, NASA, the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Case Counts, Positivity Rates, Hospitalization Rates all Soar as Statewide COVID-19 Surge Continues

Pennsylvania’s average daily count of new COVID-19 positive cases has risen by almost 1,400 in the Department of Health’s latest Early Warning Monitoring System update, while the statewide testing positivity rate, hospitalization rate, and emergency department visit rate all show sharp increases.

More than half of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are considered in “substantial transmission status,” according to the Department. The latest dashboard update was released on November 13th and includes data for the previous seven days, with cumulative comparisons to the prior week’s totals.

“It is quite clear that COVID-19 cases are occurring throughout our communities,” Governor Wolf said on November 9th. “We need all Pennsylvanians to take a stand and answer the call to protect one another. We need Pennsylvanians to be united in wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing our hands, and avoiding gatherings. It is only by working together that Pennsylvanians can prevent the spread of the virus.”
In the last two weeks, the statewide testing positivity rate – that’s the percentage of positive tests recorded among all tests performed – has risen from 6.1% to 9.6%. So, almost one in every 10 people tested has received a positive result. Generally, epidemiologists consider any rate greater than 5% a matter of serious concern. As of November 9th, 38 Pennsylvania counties had rates of 5% or greater.

For the period from November 7th to 13th, there was a daily average of 1,968 COVID-specific hospitalizations throughout the Commonwealth, an increase of 536 from the previous week. On average, there were 188 patients on ventilators, compared to 133 for the previous week.

The number of new cases statewide reached its spring peak on April 8th with 2,058 cases. It surpassed that figure for the first time on October 21st with 2,077 cases and has remained on a steep upward trajectory for more than three weeks.

For the 24-hour period concluding at 12:00 a.m. on November 13th, the daily count was 5,531, the highest ever recorded. Pennsylvania has surpassed a quarter-million cases since the start of the pandemic (254,387). There were 30 new COVID-related deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 9,224.

Under the statewide disaster emergency, individuals must wear masks whenever leaving home. Mask wearing is mandatory in all public spaces. Businesses that are permitted to conduct in-person operations must take precautions to protect their employees, their employees’ families, their patrons, and their communities. All Pennsylvanians can find resources for managing the pandemic in the state’s COVID-19 guide.

Gig Economy Companies Win Big Victory with California Ballot Measure

Labor advocates claimed one major ballot-measure victory on Election Day in Republican-leaning Florida when voters overwhelmingly approved raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Yet, in heavily Democratic California, a proposal to allow rideshare companies to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees was resoundingly approved in the state’s most-expensive referendum ever.

Gig companies led by Uber and Lyft spend $205 million in support of Proposition 22, while labor groups spent $20 million to defeat it. The big spenders secured a 58.6% “yes” vote in a contest largely viewed as a proxy war for the broader issue of employee classification and the future of organized labor.

The high stakes and tensions of the campaign were reflected in early reactions to the outcome. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reportedly shared a Tweet by tech sector entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis that hailed the result as a victory by gig workers over “big-money union” and referred to California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez as a “grifter.”

Prop 22 essentially reversed legislation authored by Gonzalez and signed into law in September by Governor Gavin Newsom that created misclassification protections consistent with a landmark California Supreme Court ruling known as the Dynamex decision.

In response to Khosrowshahi’s re-Tweet, Gonzalez Tweeted, “Don’t come at me with your anti-union dribble. Uber & Lyft didn’t spend $200 (million) talking about unions, they spent it lying about worker protections.”

Without classification as employees, drivers will not be paid for time they spend on call between rides. Therefore, their average hourly earnings will be calculated using only the time a passenger is in their car. Further, they will receive a 30-cents-per-mile tax credit for their vehicle expenses, which is far less than the federal standard deduction of 57.5 cents per mile. Also, drivers will not be covered by mandatory overtime pay protection.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich told CNN, “Uber and Lyft figure if they win in California they can win political fights in the rest of the states, and probably Congress. Labor unions recognize its importance as well. If Uber and Lyft win this, more employers around the country will classify more of their employees as contract workers. That would mean big savings to employers, since contract workers don’t get Social Security or worker’s compensation, minimum wage, or other labor protections. By the same token, workers would be disadvantaged.”